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CBSSports.com Senior College Football Columnist

Weis has people talking about Kansas football -- and that's a good start


LAWRENCE, Kan. -- For the first time since Charlie Weis became a head coach more than seven years ago, it appears he doesn't know what he has done.

(Before we proceed, go ahead, might as well get it over with. Insert your Weis joke here. Yes, there have been failings, boastings, losing and the worst record in Notre Dame history. This is different. Way different.)

Weis brought his case to KU's sporting heart, Allen Fieldhouse, in December. (Getty Images)  
Weis brought his case to KU's sporting heart, Allen Fieldhouse, in December. (Getty Images)  
Lined up in an auditorium in the Kansas football complex are four figures with similar back stories. Weis as usual is in charge, this time introducing the three newest Jayhawks. Transfers Dayne Crist, Jake Heaps and Justin McCay are part of Weis' first recruiting class at Kansas. Considering their pasts, the one shared adjective describing their careers might be "underwhelming."

Crist lost the starting quarterback job at Notre Dame as a senior. Heaps did the same at BYU, only in his sophomore season. McCay, a four-star receiver out of high school, lasted all of three games at Oklahoma before being injured.

Heaps takes the lead when asked if this lineup isn't a living, breathing career rebound waiting to happen.

"If you don't look at it that way, it's kind of foolish," he said. "It is a second chance. We had our first opportunities."

Weis seems to understand the significance of being a member of the Second Chancers. To build Kansas into something more respectable -- which is really all they want here -- he first has had to tear it down. Since the magic 2007 season, Mark Mangino left in a rush of controversy, replacement Turner Gill was absolutely the wrong hire and the world has forgotten about Jayhawks football. If it ever knew in the first place.

Those players were introduced a couple of weeks ago. Now it's less than a week before football signing day and we have been compelled to pay attention in Lawrence. No matter what your opinion of the new coach, Weis is still larger than life, especially here -- a celebricoach out on the Plains. The new staff, while not all-star, is intriguing. With the Second Chancers, Weis is assembling a roster the way an NFL GM does. Quickly.

"You can get to the NFL from every school in the country," Weis said earlier this month. "Any school that says you can't get there from that school, that's not true."

Nice thought, but Kansas would settle for beating Kansas State at the moment. Down I-70, 72-year-old Bill Snyder has smacked down the Jayhawks by a combined 118-28 in the past two meetings.

The deconstructing -- at least of perceptions -- has begun ...

 that Kansas football is a lost soul at a basketball school.
 that it is impossible to recruit effectively here given the climate, coming off a 2-10 season that featured one of the worst defenses in college football history.
 that Weis as a head coach is a heck of an NFL offensive coordinator.

Really, that's what this is about, isn't it? Read between the lines and it seems Kansas AD Sheahon Zenger was progressing toward landing Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn. Toward the end of the process Weis, then the Florida offensive coordinator, showed interest. Things progressed so quickly that one day Weis was interviewing in Gainesville, the next (Dec. 9) he was being introduced as the football coach at that top-five basketball school.

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This job has to be easier, doesn't it? At Notre Dame they want championships. Here at Kansas they want a bowl, any bowl. Yes, that would be a good place to start.

"My Notre Dame job was my first go-around," Weis said. "I was going from being an only NFL guy to college. I had a lot of things I had to learn in the transition. ... Now I have knowledge I didn't have last time that I didn't have before."

He doesn't elaborate, but no matter how this turns out, you have to pay attention. Every time he steps to the podium Weis makes news. Already he has announced the departure of approximately 10 players, including 2011 starting quarterback Jordan Webb. In a quarterback league, Weis seemingly has his starters on the roster for the next three seasons before coaching a game.

Crist, already graduated from Notre Dame, has been installed as the starter in 2012, his final season of eligibility. Theoretically, Heaps will take over after that. When it was announced Dec. 22 that both had transferred here, it marked the biggest recruiting day in Kansas football history. Call it college football free agency.

When Weis' entire first Kansas class is announced next week, it isn't expected to blow anyone away but it will be a start. Weis said there might be more one-and-done Crist transfers later in the year. There will be an NCAA appeal to gain McCay's eligibility this year.

The new staff includes former Dallas Cowboys head coach Dave Campo (as defensive coordinator). Campo is 64 and hasn't coached in college since 1988. But it was significant that he has a national championship ring with Miami, the last of 11 college stops.

Offensive line coach Tim Grunhard came to his first college job directly from the nearby Kansas City suburbs, where he was coaching a high school team. It helped that he played 11 years with the Chiefs and on Notre Dame's last national championship team.

Two of Weis' ex-Notre Dame assistants, Rob Ianello and Ron Powlus, joined the crusade. Former Notre Dame linebacker Maurice Crum has become a grad assistant. Beginning to notice a pattern? Suggested new marketing slogan: Wake up the Crimson and Blue echoes.

Back to that auditorium. The Second Chancers have each been torn down in their own way. Crist was a huge recruiting get for Weis at Notre Dame in 2008. But fortunes change and limbs get tweaked. Notre Dame disposed of Weis two years into Crist's career. Brian Kelly, more or less, disposed of Crist at halftime of the 2011 season opener against South Florida.

Crist, recovered for the second time from a knee injury, was pulled for Tommy Rees. He played only a handful of snaps the rest of the season.

"What was told to me it was about production," Crist said. "Basically that's all I got."

"Anything that has happened with Dayne Crist in the last two years, as far as I'm concerned, is null and void," Weis said. "I know what I had when I left there two years ago, and I'm fired up to have him right now. And so should you be."

Heaps was Crist West. Another blue-chip quarterback, he was on everyone's list coming out of Skyline High School in Sammanish, Wash. Heaps was considered so valuable that former Washington coach Ty Willingham offered a scholarship to his high school teammate, receiver Kasen Williams, as a freshman. Hey, if Heaps happened to come along in a package deal, all the better.

He didn't, of course. Heaps, then a sophomore, lost his starting job at BYU to Riley Nelson halfway through last season. Heaps will have two years of eligibility after sitting out 2012.

Until then, Crist sees himself as sort of a Weis translator. Yeah, he's a gruff and intimidating coach, but he's our gruff and intimidating coach. And you will have to pay attention whether you're player, coach or media.

"The honesty you get from him on a daily basis was the biggest thing in my eyes," Crist said. "The players will quickly find out he's going to be honest with you every day, whether you want to hear it or not."

You'll continue to hear it, from the man himself, but Weis knows what he is doing. This time the bar has been lowered. The coach is energized. And all they want is a bowl, any bowl. Yes, that would be a good place to start.

Right now, second chances abound.

Anyone in need of a credential from all the BCS title games? Dennis Dodd has them. In three decades in the business, he's covered everything from the Olympics to Stanley Cup to conference realignment. Just get him on campus in a press box in the fall. His heart lies with college football.

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